Anatomical Sciences graduate, Melissa Surgey, has worked at the NHS since leaving the University of Manchester in 2012. Whilst most of her peers were planning a career in research or applying for postgraduate study during her final year on the three year programme, Melissa decided to take a different route, one which led her to a graduate scheme to become a manager within the NHS. Here, she explains how she got to that point and what she’s been up to ever since…
I started at Manchester studying Biomedical Sciences, which I chose because I had a keen interest in human sciences throughout school and sixth form. The range of course modules at Manchester was really diverse and studying Biomedical Sciences in first year gave me the chance to learn in more detail about topics I enjoyed at A-Level, but also to discover completely new specialisms such as developmental biology and medical virology. I decided to specialise in Anatomical Sciences for my second and final year as my interest was more geared towards the physiology and pathology of the human body as a whole.
I really enjoyed my time on the course but must admit that I found the intensity around exam time really challenging – especially as the assessment for my course was largely exam focused so I was often sitting 4 or 5 in each exam period. Balancing studying this many modules each semester with the practical elements of the course was a real challenge.
Anatomy students at Manchester are fortunate in that the university still uses human cadavers for dissection practicals, which was a very interesting experience and really helped consolidate my learning. It can be un-nerving to begin with, but it’s a real privilege that people have donated their bodies to science to support our learning and seeing how respectfully the staff and students treat the specimens has really stuck with me, even after leaving university.
When it came to deciding what I was going to do after graduation it became clear to me that research wasn’t my best option. Generally, I really struggled with some of the basics you need as a researcher such as the lab based practical work and data analysis. Whilst I got support to help me with this, it wasn’t something that came naturally to me and I definitely didn’t enjoy it so couldn’t imagine spending every day doing it as a job. Outside of my degree, I did a lot of volunteering and was on the RAG (Raise and Give) Committee whilst undertaking a couple of internships in international development. This helped me build up some work experience and made me realise that I wanted to work in a people-focused environment and that my values lay in the public sector.
I was noticeably in the minority on my course (and the wider faculty) in wanting to explore something in a completely different area to my degree after graduation. The majority of my peers were pursuing postgraduate study or life science-related fields and I did find it difficult to find any advice or guidance on alternative options initially from within the faculty.
I found the university careers service really helpful in signposting me to other options. I always assumed graduate schemes were more geared towards the private sector and didn’t even know about big public sector and charity schemes until speaking with a careers advisor. With my mind made up in my final year, the head of my course was really supportive in allowing me to take some modules more geared towards my interests and ambitions, for example the Manchester Leadership Programme and undertaking my final year project with the Centre for History of Science, Technology and Medicine as opposed to a lab-based project.
The decision to go for the grad scheme at the NHS has led to me having a really enjoyable career so far. One of the highlights that has stuck with me throughout was a project I managed when working as an operational manager in women’s and children’s services. I was able to make changes to the way we ran a service for women who were having pregnancy complications and miscarriages so they could be treated in a more dignified and private environment and have access to improved emotional support.
My biggest career achievement so far came in my first role after finishing the graduate scheme. I was part of a team that negotiated a deal with the Government to give control of £6 billion of health and social care spending to the NHS and local authorities in Greater Manchester. It was the first deal of its kind and to be part of such a historic project that could change how the NHS works was an unforgettable experience.
For anyone considering going down a similar path to mine i’ll say this – your academic achievements are important but employers (especially the NHS) are also looking for well-rounded individuals who can be relied on to behave professionally in the workplace. NHS experience isn’t essential at entry level (e.g. to join the graduate scheme) but you will need to be able to demonstrate key transferable skills clearly. Activities you could do alongside your degree to develop these skills could include part-time work, volunteering or being part of a society.
The NHS graduate scheme recruitment process is designed to identify individuals with the right values and behaviours to be leaders, not just managers. It’s really important to demonstrate clearly at the interview and assessment centre that you behave with compassion and integrity and can reflect on your skills, abilities and areas for development.
You should also stay up to date with developments and trends in health and social care and this is easy to do through websites and the news. Some good sources include the NHS Confederation, The King’s Fund, the Health Service Journal and the Guardian Healthcare Professionals Network.